One of the less spoken about aspects of the Kawhi Leonard trade is the departure of back-up center Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl’s departure along with declining Lucas Noguiera’s qualifying offer means the Raptors now only have one true center on the team: Jonas Valanciunas. If the Raptors want to make a real run at the Eastern Conference they might need a back up for him..
One of the most intriguing observations of the NBA is that when everyone is zigging there aren’t many teams zagging. The trend right now is the death of the big man. Teams are opting to have players who can stretch the court and offer a bit more than a traditional five. Jonas Valaciunas started to make strides and adapt his game midway through the 2017-18 season, attempting around one three pointer per game. The shots started to go down for him too. JV knocked down 40 percent of those attempts on the season, which is a significant turnaround for a player who was starting to show signs of becoming dispensable.
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Plenty of teams still run out at least two centers in rotation during the course of the game. Even Golden State, the current NBA Champions, had JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia on their roster playing decent minutes last year. The Raptors have signed Chris Boucher to a contract but he might not be the finished article yet. There's incentive to sign a big man capable of playing 10-15 minutes a game next season.
Greg Monroe is an obvious choice. Monroe left the Celtics at the end of last season and has yet to find a suitor for his particular set of skills. He might not be able to shoot from beyond the arc, but Monroe is a superb passer and a voracious rebounder. He averaged 2.3 assists in 19 minutes per game once joining up with the Celtics in February, a promising stat for a back-up center. Monroe is also a nuisance inside the paint, using his strength to shrug off would-be defenders. If teams are playing smaller line-ups when Monroe is on the court it could go either way. If, however, Monroe gets into his rhythm then it could prove catastrophic for a lot of second units.
In essence, Monroe would help you zig when other teams zag.
That could prove to be the case with numerous centers in the open market. The Raptors could even bring back Lucas Nogueira. His chemistry with the second unit was telepathic at times and earning more significant minutes could improve his game further. Nogueira’s length makes him a terrific shot blocker and he did have great passing ability for a big. He did lack consistency which cost him minutes during the season. Small sample sizes is where we’ve been used to seeing Nogueira the past couple of seasons and in all honesty, that’s probably where he is best suited. The fact that there is little to no market interest in him means Toronto could potentially pick him up on a slight contract. Chris Boucher would have time to develop with more playing time and we could all be happy seeing Bebe again.
Centers might be viewed as a dying breed in the NBA but they still provide a specialist skill that not many players have. Toronto could take the risk and look for someone who could provide a great pick-and-roll game and crash the boards old style. If you don't have a player who can stretch the floor then there is a risk of being caught out offensively and defensively. The NBA is full of versatile line-ups and being stuck with a less than mobile big could leave his counterpart with an open three-point look. No one wants to be left behind and living in the past could well push free agents away from Toronto. Money is money but everyone wants to play an attractive brand of basketball.
Teams still rely on big men to protect the rim, Rudy Gobert is a prime example of someone who makes most of their impact within the paint. And the number one pick in the draft this year was DeAndre Ayton a generational big man with the physique of a Roman warrior and an old school set of skills.
There is clearly still a place left for the big man in the NBA, even if the window may be closing for them. Toronto should look to act now if they want to make the most of a unique piece for the roster, before time runs out.